Those Two Impostors

Rudyard Kipling has these lines in his poem, “If”:

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same

In place of “Triumph” and “Disaster,” you could also put “Failure” and “Success.” Both of these are impostors as well. We make them impostors when we give our outcomes these names.

My artist friend Cary gave me a set of design concepts for the cover of my next book, coming out soon. Four of the designs were similar, or so it seemed to me, because they all elaborated a theme that I didn’t like at its core. But the remaining design was great, in my view, because it hit upon something close to the feel of what I think the book conveys. This was the idea to develop and refine.

Does that mean the four rejected designs were “failures”? Depends on what you mean by the word. The unsatisfying designs provided opportunities to explore why they were unsatisfying. I could point to specific elements that didn’t fit, seeking to articulate as best I could why these elements didn’t convey the right impression. Thus, these so-called failures are even now contributing toward success. They let me explain the book in better detail to Cary (and to myself).

In other words, the one best design, if that was all I had, would not have provided nearly as much worth or information as having the rejected designs along with it.

Apply this to the way we think about our efforts and aspirations in this life. Being overly rigid about declaring an outcome to be a failure or a success cheapens that outcome by misrepresenting it.

Recall that Joseph never understood the fullness of his calling until he was able to look back on his apparent triumphs and disasters—his seeming successes and failures—as steps within a single, continuous, long walk.

The real danger of the overly harsh declaration of failure in our efforts is that we will see the declaration as a rebuke, and in the rebuke, we will feel scolded into doing nothing. This includes succumbing to the state of unfocused busy-ness we use to conceal from ourselves the fact that we are doing nothing. Do something instead. That is, take the next brave or hopeful step out into the possibility of success or failure—either one of which is merely the sound of the next breath within the calling you are uncovering by walking it out.